In a game full of true ‘villains’ - cheaters and drug abusers and out-and-out criminals - an entire stadium, during an exhibition home run hitting contest that, while fun (or supposed to be) means nothing in the grand scheme of things, decided to pour its collective vitriol out on one of baseball’s best and brightest young stars.
Last year’s Home Run Derby was one of the most memorable contests in some time. Baseball is a sport with a rich history of being passed down from generation to generation. With his father on the mound, Robinson Cano launched bomb after bomb and for a moment it was as if the Cano’s were back in their backyard sharing that time-honored tradition of father-son baseball bonding. When it was all over, Cano leapt into his father’s arms victorious and every headline the next day harped on about the feel-good nature of that moment.
Flash forward a season, and both Cano’s looked as though they wanted to be anywhere but on the diamond as the ruthless Kansas City crowd cheered every Cano out mercilessly (this including his final out, the ‘gold’ ball that, when hit for a home run, turns into a charitable donation). Some fan went as far as to fly a plane over the stadium with a banner that read ‘You blew it, Cano’ in reference to his not selecting Billy Butler for his American League squad. Some fans claim their issue is not with Cano leaving Butler off but with him saying he would bring a Royals player along and going back on his word, but according to Cano, Major League Baseball wanted his selections a week before the All Star rosters were announced so he didn’t know who would be representing Kansas City at the Midsummer Classic.
Robinson Cano hugs his father after failing to hit a home run in the 2012 Home Run Derby. (Yahoo! Sports)
This whole ugly episode starts with, of all people, Billy Butler. Butler’s had himself a nice first half and was selected as an All Star reserve, meaning he will get a chance to play in the game in front of his hometown fans. You know, in the game that actually counts. It’s impossible to argue with Cano’s choice of Jose Bautista (27 home runs) and while Prince Fielder’s HR totals are low, he is a prolific home run hitter who won the contest in 2009 and can (and did) put on quite a memorable show. Mark Trumbo seems to be the player fans expected Cano to leave out in the cold, even with his 22 home runs compared to Butler’s 16. Butler’s 16 home runs, by the way, leave him 16th in the American League (not MLB, the A.L.) in that category, so Cano passed up a lot of home run hitters more deserving. Just because he happens to play in the ballpark doesn’t mean a player is entitled to a spot. And they say Yankee fans have a sense of entitlement!
While last year’s Home Run Derby was memorable for sentimental reasons, the 2008 affair at the original Yankee Stadium will always be remembered for the remarkable show Josh Hamilton put on, launching some of the longest home runs the old ballpark in the Bronx ever witnessed. Hamilton didn’t even win yet his performance will forever be remembered as one of the greatest Home Run Derby showings ever. The Yankee Stadium crowd oohed and aahed appropriately, loving every minute of the spectacular show they were watching, and guess what? Not a single Yankee participated in that Derby. The final season at historic Yankee Stadium and no Yankee participant? After last night, it’s a shock that no one rioted.
In the end, what is supposed to be a fun night that celebrates the game of baseball and the accomplishments of the first half turned into an ugly affair that did nothing but make the fans of Kansas City look bad. Prince Fielder’s eventual victory (on Robinson Cano’s American League squad that finished one, two and three in the contest) is almost an afterthought. What will be remembered about the 2012 Home Run Derby is nothing to write home about.